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FortisBC offers Union binding arbitration

Two more days of failed negotiations last week has left FortisBC and IBEW local 213 members at an impasse, and now the company has formally invited the union to binding interest arbitration in an effort to end the lockout.

If this is agreed upon, a third party would make a decision on all outstanding items and those decisions would essentially become the new collective agreement and would be binding for both parties.

“From the companies perspective, it’s become apparent that a new path is needed to reach a settlement,” says FortisBC spokesperson Joyce Wagenaar.

“The decision to enter this process sits with the union, and if the union accepts it then we can proceed. So either the union leadership can accept it or if they wish, they can take it to membership for a vote.”

FortisBC first locked out its union workers this past June and the two sides have participated in mediation, even reaching two tentative agreements that ultimately fell through.

The two sides were back at the bargaining table this past week for two days, with the union offering up three separate proposals, all of which were rejected by FortisBC. Rod Russell, assistant business manager for IBEW Local 213 says he is frustrated, given that one of the rejected proposals was the same one that FortisBC recently signed with COPE 378.

“After suffering six months without pay, the union wanted its members back to work so at least Christmas could be a happy time spent with their family,” he says.

“Seeking to be flexible, three proposals were brought to the table. One was the same, identical deal FortisBC signed (last week) with COPE 378, its office workers, and the company said no. The second proposal was a basic, plain back-to-work agreement, that included only minimal wage increases of two point five per cent, two per cent, two point five per cent, two point five per cent, no other changes, and the company said no."

“Though it would be hard for workers with young families, the third proposal included a compromise on the mandatory compressed work week," explained Russell.

"All workers would be forced to be on the compressed work week if 50 per cent plus one of the crew voted for it or if 75 per cent of the workers’ headquarters voted for it. The company had already agreed to a five per cent premium as compensation for working the longer 10-hour day, which would significantly encourage workers to vote for it. However FortisBC rejected this compromise.”

Russell says the union will make a decision “shortly” on whether or not to agree to binding interest arbitration, but is not sure if it will be put to a vote.

He laments the 225 workers have not seen a pay cheque for six months, meaning Christmas will be a very difficult time for most families. Wagenaar has reiterated that Fortis would immediately welcome their employees back to work once a compromise has been reached, adding that the company has offered an increase to wages with no changes to benefits.

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